Street Kitchen Asian Bistro, the first brick-and-mortar to open in the Vallagio at Inverness (Russo's Kitchen + Tavern and a second Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria will open in the same development in February), is Mary Nguyen's second restaurant (her first is Parallel Seventeen in Uptown), but just two days after opening the doors, Nguyen, her staff and kitchen comrades have seamlessly woven their way into the suburban fabric, turning out inspired Asian cuisine that draws from Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, China and Malaysia.
"We just kind of opened the doors quietly, but we've been really busy, and I'm super happy about being down south," says Nguyen, who opened on Tuesday. "I've been talking to a lot of the customers that have come in, and they're all telling me that this area needs more independent restaurants."
After a marathon dinner last night, at which we greedily grazed from Nguyen's menus, one of which is solely devoted to Asian street food and sushi rolls, we're keeping our fingers crossed that this is just the beginning of more -- much more -- to come from Nguyen, who can cook her ass off.
A scroll through our pictorial essay should convince you of the same.
Rice paper roll brimming with sashimi grade tuna, avocado slices, cucumbers, leaves of red leaf lettuce, slivers of green onion and thin stalks of tempura-fried asparagus. The dipping sauce, a mix of sweet soy, aioli and shichimi togarashi, a Japanese seven-spice blend, should be bottled and auctioned off to the highest bidder.
From the street food menu, which parades, among other things, dim sum -- ginger-scented, chicken-stuffed siu mai
Fresh -- not frozen -- pork- and shrimp-studded Shanghai soup dumplings dribbling with juice.
Shatteringly crisp rangoons, parceled with blue lump crab meat, goat cheese and cream cheese and sided with a ginger-pear sauce.
Nguyen serves thin triangles of firm, chewy, griddled roti, a north Indian bread, with a mellow yellow potato curry. Delicious.
Delicate har gow shrimp dumplings perfumed with orange.
Thai-spiced steamed dumplings packed with shrimp, mushrooms and pork.
Impossibly tender squares of skewered beef, served with a sweet chile-pineapple sauce and pickled vegetables, showcase one of the best satays we've had in this city.
Nguyen's board is full of stellar dishes, but the okonomiyaki , which, in Japanese, translates to "as you like it," is the kind of food we truly long for. It's wonderfully messy, smells of funk and not remotely attractive, but the semi-circular pancake penetrated with cabbage, shocking pink pickled ginger, scallions and egg, its surface freakishly fluttering with wisps of shaved fish scales and zigzagged with swipes of mayonnaise and a mixture of Worcestershire and ketchup, is a rare dish in these parts -- and one that we'd gladly eat every day.
Kare laksa, a coconut-curried, spicy broth buoyant with snow peas, tofu, shrimp, bean sprouts, cucumbers, pineapple and rice noodles and crowned with a soft, shivering egg oozing yolk.
The house fried rice studded with vegetables, chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, lap cheong sausage and a sunnyside-up egg.
Japanese miso-glazed grilled beef short ribs.
Kaffir lime dressed rotisserie chicken salad skyscraped with red cabbage, cherry tomatoes, verdant greens, red onions, avocado, cucumbers, carrots and crispy noodles.
Nguyen's flourless chocolate cake paired with spicy peanuts and kung pao ice cream laced with chile sauce.
Street Kitchen's passion fruit mojito, made with ginger pear rum, muddled limes and fresh passion fruit and organic mint.
Ginger-kissed Samurai beer floating with star anise and fresh pear slices infused with Sambuca di Amore. Don't knock it till you try it.
Street Kitchen's contemporary dining room bedecked with tables minimally flourished, beautiful photography depicting Asia's street-food scene, a separate bar with community tables and an open kitchen with chef's counter seating.
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Owner and executive chef Mary Nguyen talking to a guest from her exhibition kitchen.